2021 NatureVest Impact Report
Managing Director's Letter
I was recently asked what I see, looking out at this coming decade. The question was posed as I sat in my home office in Montana, since most of The Nature Conservancy’s offices have remained closed since the beginning of the global pandemic. We were in our twelfth straight day of air quality alerts due to wildfires, some of them hundreds of miles away. The view from my window, with smoke from Oregon blowing across the Montana mountains, showed me in no uncertain terms what we all know intellectually but don’t always know how to act on: We are all interconnected. The natural world makes life as we know it possible. And most important, everything can change in an instant.
What I see looking at the coming decade is both profoundly concerning and inspirational. The difference is in how we choose to move forward—individually, and, more important. collectively.
We are reeling from rapid change, from devastating weather events to the global health crisis of the novel coronavirus. It is painful to confront how much damage these events have caused to someone whose homeland is at risk, whose job or livelihood requires working alongside others, and especially to those directly providing services to the public. It will always be impossible to accept the magnitude of the economic disparity in the pandemic’s impact on our society.
What’s particularly startling is that the finance and investment economy essentially floated over every other sector. When the S&P fell more than 30% in just five weeks, investors braced for the worst. But it fully recovered in an astonishing five months and has gained another 30% on top of that in just 12 more months.
On one hand, this shows an even more unsettling jump in the wealth gap. On the other hand—and where I continue to hold onto hope today—hidden within those numbers we saw urgency of action becoming much more acute. Investors often hold great power of influence, and we saw them begin to push businesses harder than ever to address our deep social and economic inequities, climate change and even the ongoing and rapidly accelerating crisis of biodiversity loss.
You can also read our 2020 Impact Report.
Within NatureVest, the impact investing team at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), this past year was by far our busiest since our launch in 2014. Credit goes to our team, our TNC colleagues and our external partners, all of whom excel at getting creative, working fast and pushing hard. But you can’t paddle the rapids without water, and thankfully we’ve seen more capital flowing downstream—toward natural climate solutions and economy-focused land and water conservation—than ever before.
To be clear, this is still forward-looking: we closed only two transactions in the 12 months ended March 2021, which shows how challenging this work is. For investors, urgency still doesn’t trump complexity, and many of them have found themselves at a loss trying to figure out how to move forward as the risks of climate change and biodiversity loss become so clear. It’s like the shock when you realize an accident has just happened and those long seconds before the chill subsides and you jump into action. Investors have long been anxious for product with real impact, but thankfully as we move into the second half of 2021, we are seeing many more capital providers rushing to the scene, leaning in and showing change is within reach. And owing to this inflooding, NatureVest has a deeper pipeline today than ever before, and we are beginning to be able to point to real change at scale as a result of our work.
An excellent example is the institutional investor-backed Sustainable Water Impact Fund, detailed further in this report, in which TNC serves as Conservation Advisor in partnership with fund manager RRG Capital Management. The Fund has already established itself as a blueprint for embedding conservation benefits and costs into the calculus of real asset acquisitions. And with several investments so far in agricultural and water assets in water-scarce regions of the world, we are beyond excited about the Fund’s anticipated conservation outcomes.
This is where our collective outlook really matters. 2021 is the beginning of the future; we at NatureVest are working hard to be part of the future we all want to see. As novelist and essayist Arundhati Roy wrote, the COVID-19 pandemic is a portal, a gateway between our old world and the new one we need to build: “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”